Bowel cancer symptoms: Two visual clues in your poo that should ‘never be ignored’

Dr Hilary Jones discusses bowel cancer awareness acronym

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Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel, which is part of the digestive symptom. When cancerous cells multiply and divide in this region, it can interfere with bowel habits. The resulting impact can often be seen in your poo.

According to Bowel Cancer Australia, blood in your poo or rectal bleeding are telltale signs of bowel cancer.

“Bright red or very dark blood should never be ignored,” warns the charity.

Another visible warning sign is a change in shape or appearance of your poo.

“For example, narrower poos than usual or mucus in poo,” explains Bowel Cancer Australia.

Other warning signs include:

  • Frequent gas pain, cramps
  • A feeling of fullness or bloating in the bowel or rectum
  • Unexplained anaemia
  • A low red blood count causing tiredness, weakness or weight loss
  • A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after going to the toilet
  • Pain or a lump in the anus or rectum
  • Abdominal pain or swelling.

It is worth noting that most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer.

Other health problems can cause similar symptoms, notes the NHS.

For example:

  • Blood in the poo when associated with pain or soreness is more often caused by piles (haemorrhoids)
  • A change in bowel habit or abdominal pain is usually caused by something you’ve eaten
  • A change in bowel habit to going less often, with harder poo, is not usually caused by any serious condition – it may be worth trying laxatives before seeing a GP.

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“These symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and when they persist despite simple treatments,” warns the NHS.

The health body says to see a GP If you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more.

“Make sure you see a GP if your symptoms persist or keep coming back after stopping treatment, regardless of their severity or your age. You’ll probably be referred to hospital.”

Am I at risk?

The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it.

Your risk of developing bowel (colon and rectal) cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and lifestyle factors.

Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get bowel cancer.

The role of some parts of our diet remains unknown or uncertain. But researchers have found some foods can definitely affect the risk of bowel cancer.

Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK, it is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) in the UK are linked to eating these meats.

The government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less.

A linked risk factor is obesity.

“It is estimated that 11 out of 100 bowel cancers (11 percent) in the UK are linked to being overweight or obese,” reports Cancer Research UK.

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